Hot Take: CineStill 400D Is Better Than Kodak Portra 400 For Portraits

The world needed a new color film, and CineStill delivered. Here's why 400Dynamic is the best film stock for portraits, even better than the famous Portra 400.

Hot Take: CineStill 400D Is Better Than Kodak Portra 400 For Portraits

As a portrait photographer, CineStill 400D is the best film stock for portraits and street lifestyles, particularly when pitted against the popular Portra 400.

Long ago, the 400 ISO color negative film game was overwhelmingly led by Portra 400 from Kodak. Lomography 400, Fuji Superia, and Ultramax were all present, yet the trend-setting photographers championed the 400-speed Portra series - until CineStill unveiled their 400D.

In the summer of 2022, CineStill announced and released a new color-negative film: CineStill 400 Dynamic, a fine-grain, daylight-balanced film stock with a 400 ISO box speed.

CineStill is also known for its 800T and 50D film stocks, which were motion picture film stock with the ramjet layer removed. According to their website, CineStill states 400D is an entirely new film formula that has never existed before. It is available in 35mm and 120 films and is C-41 processed.

The moment I heard about CineStill 400D, I was pumped. Reviews from my favorite photographers only confirmed what the first images revealed: this film had an unprecedented, captivating quality. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it — and finally, in October, I spotted it in NYC film labs.

Moment Cine Still CINE400 D36 EXP 400 Dynamic 35mm Film thumbnail

CineStill

400Dynamic Color Negative - 35mm Film

Feed your 35mm film camera the brand new 400Dynamic, a daylight balanced film with a soft color palette, natural saturated color, and rich, warm skin tones!

Buy for $14.99
Moment Cine Still CINE400 D120 400 Dynamic 120 Film thumbnail

CineStill

400Dynamic Color Negative - 120 Film

Feed your medium format film camera the new 400Dynamic, a daylight balanced film with a soft color palette, natural saturated color, and rich, warm skin tones!

Buy for $14.99


When shooting on a 35mm camera with a 35mm lens, Portra 400 did not satisfy me when I first started using it. I had to tinker in the editing process more than necessary, as I prefer to keep post-production at a minimum.

Regarding portraiture, I'm highly selective with the film stock I choose. I look for how it responds to exposure latitude, colors, and aesthetics, and when testing a new film, I want to see how it performs at box speed. Unfortunately, Portra 400 failed to meet my expectations - its colors were flat, the light casts were too neutral, and there was nothing special about the image.

However, my opinion of Portra 400 changed when I started shooting 120 film. The contrast I got in my photos was enough to appreciate, but that was all I could say. I needed something more from 35mm photography, especially since I was using an RB67, which is quite a beast.

These images are from a conceptual shoot I did in November of 2021 with my Mamiya RB67.

I tested how Portra 400 adapted in various lighting situations: a semi-studio setting with one stationary light source and a low light setting with predominantly neon lights serving as additional modifiers. I was pleased with the contrast, especially when underexposed. However, I had to make further color adjustments, leaving me dissatisfied.

I continued to test different film stocks, though most were not 400 ISO; for a while, I shot with Lomography Color Negative 100 and 400 ISO for my street portraits. I was pleased with the results I got from LOMO, and despite some of the things I could nitpick about them, I still preferred them over Portra 400 — I avoided Portra 400 for the longest time.

And then, CineStill announced the arrival of 400Dynamic.

I was eager to try out the latest 400D and didn't hesitate to use it on a photo shoot. Taking pictures in NYC's streets with natural lighting was an exciting way to test the roll.

Below are some photos from that shoot with my subject, Princess. The images combine various circumstances — outdoors and indoors, with and without flash - on 35mm and 120 films.

Moment kodak 6031678 Professional Portra 400 Film 135 36 Propack 5 Rolls thumbnail

Kodak

Professional Portra 400 Color Negative Film 35mm

Eyeing the go-to choice of pro film shooters? Kodak Portra Film at true ISO 400 delivers spectacular skin tones and color saturation in 35mm format

Buy for $74.99
Moment kodak 8331506 Professional Portra 400 Film 120 Propack 5 Rolls thumbnail

Kodak

Professional Portra 400 Color Negative 120 Film - 5 Rolls

Looking for a film with great skin tones, exceptional color saturation? At true ISO 400 speed, Kodak Portra 120 delivers in a wide range of lighting conditions

Buy for $59.99

At first glance, I was not impressed by the 400D. However, upon closer inspection, I quickly realized how unique this film stock is when compared to Portra 400. It produces vibrant images with excellent contrast and bold colors that truly stand out.

Above all — the feature of 400D that's most notable is its beautiful light halation. The roll registered light in a new way, showcasing more versatility than Portra 400 ever could. Although skeptical initially, I was more impressed and intrigued about the 400D than my previous run with Portra 400.

I'm a light chaser in the field, and CineStill 400D revealed itself to be the best fit for my style during its second use.

I eagerly planned a portrait shoot at Elevated Acres in the Financial District of NYC with my subject and friend, Nora, to try something new with my work. I wanted to assess how the film stock performed in direct sunlight during midday, so I seized the opportunity for a one-on-one moment. It was an experiment that yielded remarkable results.

There is something about CineStill 400D that enticed me — it feels like an old stock, and the photos produce a color that feels soft yet palpable.

CineStill 400D's iconic halation gives images an incredible warmth and vibrancy, like the red of Nora's coat jumping off the page. Initially, I doubted this effect would work under direct sunlight, yet it delivered unparalleled sophistication in color and texture without looking flat.

The best part? I barely adjusted any of the values in my CineStill 400D photos.

One of my favorite things about CineStill film, which I've repeatedly found in 400D, is how it reacts to reflecting light. With the halation, light becomes a sparkle; it becomes hot and soft at the same time. It could add a relaxed look to your photos when angled and utilized wisely.

Sometimes, halation can be overwhelming. There were instances when the way CineStill 400D reacts to direct sunlight affected the look of the photo in a mildly distracting way, with the contrast often going overboard; however, it still reserves its character.

Below are photos of my friend Ash in Central Park, shooting CineStill 400D with a 35mm camera.

Portra 400 isn't an insufficient film stock or a lost cause, and CineStill 400D could be more suitable for every idea or situation.

It's critical to comprehend your desired outcome when selecting a film stock to capture the look and feel you want. Portra 400 is a great way to use vibrant colors when exposed and adjusted correctly, and CineStill 400D can utilize saturation and temperature to heighten how an image feels when manipulated accordingly.

Choosing the right film stock will decide the personality and feel of your photos; knowing the lighting conditions beforehand also helps in the decision-making process. It's all about what you're looking for and what works for you.

I still shoot with Portra 400 now and then, and I still appreciate it.

Shot on Kodak Portra 400 by Geve.

I also believe there's an evolution in every shot you take; I have been shooting film for two years and have learned much since. I recently shot Portra 400 on 35mm in a street portrait of my good friend, Aryn. The lighting condition was close to sundown, and after I scanned my negatives, I had minimal adjustments made.

Here are the results:

Regarding personal taste, CineStill 400D is my go-to film stock for street portraiture.